FA’s position on Phil Neville’s tweets symptomatic of broader indifference towards Women’s game

There have been better first days on the job.

Phil Neville was never going to be the most popular candidate for the England women’s manager, but the emergence of his past sexist tweets has compounded his problems, strengthening the convictions of those who insist he is unsuitable for the job.

The 40-year-old, presumably in a painfully unfunny attempt at ‘banter’ wrote “Relax I’m back chilled – just battered the wife!!! Feel better now!!!”  A second tweet read: “Morning men couple of hours cricket be4 work sets me up nicely for the day!” When asked why his tweet did not address women too, Neville replied: “When I said morning men I thought the women would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds – sorry morning women!”

Failure to do appropriate due diligence on a prospective managerial candidate is in keeping with the FA’s bumbling style, so it was almost a surprise when it was reported that they were in fact aware of Neville’s past twitter indiscretions. But this raises a different question – why was Neville still considered the right man for the job? Surely his appointment is a little inappropriate, considering his tweets’ dim-witted, old fashioned stereotypic content.

However, the FA’s weak position on Neville’s tweets isn’t the main problem. The oversight is merely symptomatic of the FA’s broader indifference towards the women’s game. Twitter storm or not, the bigger injustice is Neville’s appointment in the first place.

The saga is bordering on farcical. No experience and no application, reportedly Neville wasn’t being considered until a well-known broadcaster, perhaps even Gary Neville, jokily suggested his name to the FA’s top brass at a drinks reception. The FA, seemingly striving for incompetence, actually followed through and made Neville their number one. Perhaps at another drinks reception in a couple of years, after Neville’s tenure, someone will suggest Gary Barlow give it a go, or perhaps one of the Chuckle Brothers? Doesn’t matter too much, its only women’s footy, lads.

The drinks reception story wouldn’t be so embarrassing for the FA if Neville was a good candidate. The problem is, whichever way you look at it, Neville is woefully unqualified for his new role.

He has never managed a men’s first team game in his life. Those defending his appointment insist that Neville has the requisite experience, pointing to his coaching career, which is limited to spells at Manchester United under David Moyes and at Valencia with his brother, Gary. Neville was first team coach for these clubs during their worst footballing periods of recent history, hardly convincing evidence of his managerial pedigree.

Neville did play in one of the Premier League’s greatest ever teams, and was an excellent player in his day, but being a good player does not make one a good manager, and those suggesting his time in Manchester United’s great sides in the 90s is sufficient experience for a role as senior as this are clutching at straws.

On Radio 5 Live, Jermaine Jenas was rather cross about the criticism Neville’s appointment has received, declaring that those who criticise Neville’s inexperience are missing the point – look at Pep Guardiola, Jenas insisted, he’s the best manager in the world and he had little experience when he took over Barcelona. In a sense Jenas is right, not all successful candidates for jobs necessarily have rich prior experience, but if the only way to defend Neville’s appointment is to suggest he’ll be the next Guardiola, you might wonder quite how defensible his appointment is.

Think about it this way: if the England men’s team needed a new manager in the run up to a World Cup in which they had a good chance of winning (outlandish I know, but stay with me), it’s unlikely they would take a punt on a woman with no managerial experience to speak of.  We should question why the FA are prepared to do just that with the women’s team.


Image courtesy of Chris FPage













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